Early on Thursday morning, Mumbai airport’s feedback mailbox received a bomb threat. Air India’s flight 191 from Mumbai to Newark, in the US, would be blown up by an explosive that had been stowed away in one of the luggage, according to the threat sent by email.
Moments later, pilots on board flight AI191 – now above Northern Ireland some 7,700km away — took a hard right turn. A pair of Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets scrambled from a Royal Air Force base to intercept it, hitting supersonic speeds and sending off a deafening sonic boom in the nearby town of Derbyshire. Buildings shook and car alarms went off, hundreds of people wrote on Twitter.
The flight, with a bomb presumably in its luggage, was escorted to the Stansted airport in London.
Luckily, for the 343 people on board, Air India had made a decision that would normally rankle most flyers: most of the check-in luggage had been left behind at Mumbai since the flight was overbooked.
“For some technical reasons, the check-in baggage in the flight could not be loaded. Security agencies checked the baggage at Mumbai airport and found nothing suspicious. The baggage of crew and some of the passengers who had boarded from Delhi was in the flight, which was checked at Stansted and came up clean,” according to a Mumbai airport official who asked not to be named.
According to officials, the hoax also involved two other Mumbai departures: Lufthansa’s Mumbai-Munich and Mumbai-Zurich flights. “Both of these had landed by the time the hoax mail had been seen,” the official quoted above said.
It was not clear exactly at what time the email had been sent and read by authorities. According to the official quoted above, it is possible the mail may have been seen late since it was in the feedback mailbox. “Mails sent directly to the controller elicit an immediate response,” this official added.
The threat mail, seen by HT, was issued by a group claiming to be working for the Palestinian cause and gave purported details of how the attacks would be carried out.
Such threats automatically trigger a protocol that is routed through the Bomb Threat Assessment Centre.
“In case of a specific threat, such as this one, every possible precaution is taken and aircraft and baggage are checked repeatedly. The pilot of Air India was informed through Air Traffic Controller (ATC) and the flight was diverted to London,” said the Mumbai airport official.
The diversion was confirmed by the airline as well as the London airport.
“An Air India Boeing 777 diverted into London Stansted Airport at approximately 10:15 hrs and landed safely with Essex Police in attendance. It is parked on an isolated stand away from the normal airport operations. Our runway has now re-opened and is fully operational,” said a statement by the Stansted airport.
“The plane is currently at the airport. All the 327 passengers are deplaned and served snacks and other beverages. All passengers are in airport premises,” Air India spokesperson Dhananjay Kumar said.